Boehner spent taxpayer money on etiquette school
March 9th, 2011
04:42 PM ET
4 years ago

Boehner spent taxpayer money on etiquette school

Washington (CNN) - As Speaker of the House, John Boehner regularly hosts foreign leaders visiting Washington, presides over joint meetings of the House and Senate, and gives out Congressional commendations. So, as he prepared to take over the post last year, he enrolled an aide in a class at a private school outside Washington, D.C. to learn proper etiquette.

According to public records listing payments by Boehner's office, and first reported by the publication Roll Call, the then Republican Leader spent $5,800 last December in tuition for his aide to attend a five day course this spring given by the Protocol School of Washington.

Because Boehner's office registered early for the class, which will meet in May in McLean, Virginia, his office received $500 discount off the regular $6,300 tuition fee for the five- day course.

Michael Steel, spokesman for Speaker Boehner, defended the expenditure of taxpayer funds, saying, "Part of the ceremonial role of the Speaker is hosting foreign dignitaries. It's appropriate to do this properly."

Pamela Eyring, the president and director of the Protocol School of Washington, notes there is no formal training given by the government and the school is the only accredited program in the country. Referring to government aides assigned to these duties, Eyring said, "they have high turnover rates and there's no continuity. You're struggling, trying to find things on the internet, which aren't vetted."

She noted that often those new to dealing with interactions with high level foreign leaders or other dignitaries "can cause serious embarrassment to the United States or to the military if they don't know protocol."

The class the Boehner aide will attend is called "Protocol Officer Training" and is likely to include a mix of about 30 attendees from government, military, and corporate offices.

In the last four years the school has also coached an aide from the National Republican Senatorial Committee, an aide with the House Sergeant at Arms office that handles security, a staffer for the Library of Congress, and employees of the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The school declined to give specifics on what training an aide from the Senate's GOP political arm would receive, but said others from academic institutions and other private groups focused on event planning and fundraising have attended sessions in recent years.

The protocol course covers personal leadership, proper rules on how to seat officials at official events, cross cultural awareness, and the basics of how to write invitations and arrange place cards at dinner tables. Attendees who complete the class receive a certificate and can follow up with experts at the school if they have questions about specific situations. The school has trained officials from the FBI, the CIA, NASA, as well as large companies like Boeing.

Eyring, a former chief of protocol at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Boehner's native state of Ohio, pointed to the speaker's working class roots and said that dealing with world leaders is likely new territory for him. "A lot of people that don't have exposure to international delegations or VIP's don't know what to do. Is it 'your Excellency or your honor?'

Boehner has already begun hosting a series of foreign leaders at the Capitol. Earlier this year he hosted a closed meeting with the Chinese President Hu and Wednesday he opened a joint meeting of Congress with a speech by the Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard. It's also an annual tradition for the speaker to host a lunch for the President of the United States and the Irish Prime Minister at the Capitol to celebrate St. Patrick's Day.

It's not uncommon for the Speaker of the House to pay staff to handle the details of arranging visits, planning public events or handling who sits next to who on the dais or a dinner table. Boehner's office has assigned one aide who will attend the class to those duties, but his predecessor Nancy Pelosi had two full time aides who handled protocol. But the California congresswoman's spokesman also notes that these two aides had other responsibilities, such as coordinating internal requests from members to host events in various rooms in the Capitol, all of which fall under the speaker's office.

Pelosi's spokesman Drew Hammill, said their office did not pay for either of these aides to attend a class to learn proper etiquette. "We never did this."

One GOP aide said getting up to speed on appropriate procedures helps so Speaker Boehner "knows not to bow to the King of Saudi Arabia," a not so subtle jab referring to controversy that arose when President Obama appeared to bow when he greeted the King of Saudi Arabia in 2009.


Filed under: John Boehner
soundoff (71 Responses)
  1. Dave

    Who cares? First, its 5,800 dollars. Second, every one of these guys and gals waste tons of money every day just coming to work. Does anyone in America think that Boehner comes to work thinking he is going to do the best job for all of the American people today? If you do you are drinking some really funny kool aid. None of these idiots do.

    Unfortunately, they have the audacity to complain about the hard working civil servant who comes to work every day and has to explain the the American people the idiot laws they enact. Now there is a thankless job.

    March 9, 2011 05:25 pm at 5:25 pm |
  2. Maryland Democrat

    As someone who supports President Obama, and disagrees with the Speaker's views almost entirely, I have to say I don't see a problem with this. I think that part of the job requires training, and training costs money. When congress had orientation for the newly elected members, there was a cost to that, a cost that wasn't included in the salaries we pay.

    Actually, I think the best thing to do would be to pay for a three day seminar so all of congress can get this training, instead of just sending 1 or 2 aids. The cost for a seminar would be higher but significantly more efficient.

    Maybe it would help them all get along? OK, that's too much to ask for ...

    March 9, 2011 05:26 pm at 5:26 pm |
  3. Video Guy

    Will this class teach him how not to get caught handing out check and cash on the house floor prior to voting?

    March 9, 2011 05:28 pm at 5:28 pm |
  4. Russ

    Why not hire some one actually capable of doing the job? They can spend this much for a 5 day training class for something this menial, but want to cut the budget to help retrain real workers that lost jobs because of the recession. Go figure.....it's a Republican thing.

    March 9, 2011 05:28 pm at 5:28 pm |
  5. majikbunny

    He should demand a refund!

    March 9, 2011 05:28 pm at 5:28 pm |
  6. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    In this economy??????????? $5800 for ETIQUETTE SCHOOL??????????? For just FIVE DAYS??????? In THIS ECONOMY?

    Wait, just one more question please: IN THIS ECONOMY???????????? Where are the J-O-B-S Boo-Hoo??? WHERE???????

    March 9, 2011 05:30 pm at 5:30 pm |
  7. LouAz

    That money would have been better spent if he himself had taken a basic Economics or Government Class.

    March 9, 2011 05:30 pm at 5:30 pm |
  8. Steve

    What a waste of time to cover this non-story. Every single major establishment has "professional development" training they send people to or have "experts" come to them and train. I can totally see "etiquette" school being something a politician or their aides would require. Go find something else more interesting to cover and stop trying to report every little thing out there as news. My kid went to school this morning, absolutely normal, not news.

    March 9, 2011 05:31 pm at 5:31 pm |
  9. Jake

    he should have used that money to get some sensitivity training, so he can effectively govern American citizens who may live differently than he does.

    March 9, 2011 05:31 pm at 5:31 pm |
  10. Ron

    Can you even imagine what Boehner would say about any Democrat who did this?

    March 9, 2011 05:32 pm at 5:32 pm |
  11. gt

    tax payers got fork....

    March 9, 2011 05:36 pm at 5:36 pm |
  12. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    Okay seriously: Who cares?
    I mean really. Nit pick, nit pick.

    March 9, 2011 05:38 pm at 5:38 pm |
  13. Tulsa

    Oh come on, there's no problem here. I'm no fan of the Speaker, but that said, continuing education of staff is important. Irrespective of the discipline, all staff, or employees should have the opportunity to be better at their jobs.
    Now, one question for the Speaker,
    WHERE ARE THE JOBS???????
    So far, your majority has not brought ONE bill to the floor dealing with JOBS.
    Abortion, gays, guns, all the typical Republican BS, but NOT ONE thing for the WORKING PEOPLE.

    March 9, 2011 05:38 pm at 5:38 pm |
  14. Sue

    Pelosi was using private/military jets to fly bath and forth to Washington, the entire time she was in office. She used private/military jets to fly her entire family on private vacations. Do you know how much it costs for fuel for these jets--all paid for by US tax payers. Boehner takes commercial airlines to fly back and forth.

    Pelosi was spending about $5000 per month for flowers for her office.

    What Boehner spent ONE TIME for training for his aide--is definitely NOT a big deal.

    March 9, 2011 05:39 pm at 5:39 pm |
  15. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    Boo-Hoo looks like he needs a drink.
    Green is NOT his color.
    And for the folks SERIOUSLY tripping about the $5800, just remember: It probably PALES in comparison to his BAR TAB.

    March 9, 2011 05:41 pm at 5:41 pm |
  16. Oy Vey Az

    Oy Vey ... That's a little over eleven-hundred bucks a day? ... To learn proper etiquette? Who the devil are they teaching? ... a troglodyte?

    March 9, 2011 05:42 pm at 5:42 pm |
  17. Indy

    Hell No !!! Say it ain't so John Boehner !!! I hear they teach you to cry at the drop of a hat at this school, money well spent

    March 9, 2011 05:43 pm at 5:43 pm |
  18. riki_m1

    Well done CNN...good job
    Ever thought about reporting expense > $5000 spent by pelosi or obama?

    March 9, 2011 05:44 pm at 5:44 pm |
  19. Carmel

    um there's books on etiquette you can buy! Well its nice to know where Repubilcans spend our money.

    March 9, 2011 05:45 pm at 5:45 pm |
  20. Nathan

    Right now, Boehner would lke a class on how to manage the Tea Party.

    March 9, 2011 05:46 pm at 5:46 pm |
  21. NewMalthus

    Good. Maybe we should send all members of congress and their staffs, and anyone wanting to be a media pundent to ediqutte school. Now that would be money well spent!

    March 9, 2011 05:47 pm at 5:47 pm |
  22. Brian

    This is news?? Come on, how about after the Gulf oil spill, we find out that Obama was the biggest recipient from BP over the past 20 years from campaign contributions?! Obama received over $77,000 from BP and where is the injustice in this? How about how the unions were the first to support Obamacare and then those same unions were the first to get waivers allowing them to opt out of Obamacare?? Come on people, I wish everyone in this administration had received etiquette training . . . . maybe from NPR!! After all, that left wing organization is funded with tax-payer money.

    March 9, 2011 05:49 pm at 5:49 pm |
  23. Jen

    I hope the people who voted him in are kicking themselves in the butt now. Republicans don't care about the middle class.

    March 9, 2011 05:50 pm at 5:50 pm |
  24. rs

    Gee, you wouldn't know it. Maybe he can get a refund.

    March 9, 2011 06:05 pm at 6:05 pm |
  25. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    You can't turn a bartender sow into a silk purse.
    You can't buy class.
    Boo-Hoo and his aide could go to ettiquette school until hell froze over, and Boo-Hoo would still come across as a "poser". And God forbid he gets a drink or two in him, the jig would definitely be up then!

    He's disrespectful of the President, and indolent in regards to the American people. He's a classless boor.

    March 9, 2011 06:09 pm at 6:09 pm |
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